J.D. candidate Nicholas Sawicki wrote an article for America magazine outlining the fundamental differences between an impeachment in the Senate and a criminal trial.
When Americans conjure up the image of a trial, many will undoubtedly draw on cultural mainstays like “Law & Order,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “My Cousin Vinny”: prosecution and defense attorneys arranged before a judge seated aloft and a jury of peers awaiting the evidence against the accused as argued by the attorneys. A trial by the U.S. Senate in the case of impeachment looks similar in many ways. Evidence is presented, there is a prosecution and a defense, witnesses may be called, and there is a presiding officer.
Despite the conceptual similarities, a Senate trial, formally referred to as a Court of Impeachment, is fundamentally different from a standard trial. For one, it is not a trial that is legal in nature. That is to say, it is not a criminal proceeding but a constitutional one reserved to the legislative branch of the federal government. An individual who is facing impeachment is not facing prison or financial penalties as a result of the proceeding itself but rather removal from office and a potential ban from future office-holding.